Here’s what we got up to on the last leg of our journey and a bit of an explanation for our months of radio silence…
At the start of this year we decided to put a pause on travelling and spend some time on a new project. Seven months later (somehow…) and we’re now settled back in to UK van living and working again, but this time it isn’t just the office 9 to 5….
In November last year Simon’s previous employer got in touch and offered him his old job back. Our first reaction was to think “No way! Why would we give this up?” We were in Spain at the time, having just left the Pyrenees to start making our way down to Morocco. We felt like there was much more exploring to do but at the same time, it could be a good opportunity.
We spent a couple of days kind of in limbo, walking around this small Spanish town and talking through all the options: what would happen if he said yes, how we’d make the most of our last bit of travelling, how we’d feel about cutting it short…in the end we decided that if we could have another few months on the road in Europe we could pick up the pace, see some more places and then come back to try something we’d been thinking about for a while.
We decided that if Simon went back to his old job and we returned from travelling early with some of our savings still intact, we would be in the perfect position to try setting up a business. While we’d been on the road so many people stopped and looked inside our van and seemed amazed by what they saw, we thought how nice it would be to be able to create what we have for other people. After a bit of research and some encouragement and support from our lovely friends and family, we came back to the UK, found a lush workshop in Hampshire and purchased our second van to convert.
Now, Simon is enjoying being back at his old job where he gets to use and develop his design skills and Dee is working for a charity called Home-Start. We get in as much van building work as we can through any spare evenings and weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on all the fun and adventures of van life! We still fit in the odd festival here and there 🙂
But anyway, back to travelling. After that call in November, we whizzed down to Morocco and travelled there for a month (which you can read all about here), then we made it up to France in time for Christmas with Dee’s parents and Berlin for New Years with some more family and friends, down to Vienna, over to Budapest and back up finishing our journey at our friend Joost’s place in Amsterdam. In our last month of travelling we managed travel well over 4000 km!
We went from Morocco to Berlin in just over a week and getting used to the cold again was a shock! It was surreal going from swimming outside in the sun to wrapping up in thermals and wooly hats to cope with the frosty weather in the space of a few days!
As soon as we arrived in Berlin we knew it was a place we’d feel at home. Along every street we drove we saw glimpses of fellow stealth self-build campers inconspicuously parked up – As a full-time van dweller you soon develop a keen eye for spotting other live-in vehicles!
We quickly found a free parking spot then headed straight towards the Reichstag & Bradenburg Gate to immerse ourselves in the Christmas/New Years festivities. After the devastating attack on Berlin’s Christmas market we were expecting a heavy police presence and tense atmosphere but we found in general everyone seemed relaxed and jovial.
We found Berlin to be hands down the best place we’ve ever spent New Years. We spent the countdown on a bridge near the Bradengburg gate where we were right in the thick of crazy firework fuelled celebrations. Fireworks of every description were being let off in literally every direction, at first this was a bit scary as you had to watch where you were walking – it would have been easy to be heading straight in to the line of fire! But once we got used to the bangs and whirls we enjoyed the spectacle. People were lighting fireworks propped up in empty cava bottles whilst the police just leaned back against their cars smoking cigarettes and watching…and people complain about strict EU health and safety regulations!
After the fireworks we went to an all night party held at Kulturbauerei in Prenzlauer Berg This was amazing and felt more like being at a festival than a club night. There were around 15 different stages, some in the buildings of the brewery, some in marquees and set up outside. It felt like the New Years Eve party we’d always hoped for!
Once the party was over and we’d said goodbye to our friends who were going back to the UK we spent some time learning about Berlin’s dark and fascinating history. One of our most memorable days was a visit to Teufelsburg listening station, a Cold War spy tower used by the Americans and the British to gather intelligence on Russian-controlled East Germany.
The area now seems to be occupied by squatters who were charging an entry fee at the main gate. This all looked very unofficial and we didn’t see any evidence that their being there was benefitting the place in any way – when we arrived they were all just sat inside smoking weed…but it was a wet miserable day and we’d walked pretty far so just decided to pay what they asked and not make a fuss.
The significant history of the place along with its location overlooking Berlin and the amazing street art that covers the already impressive domes made this one of the most extraordinary places we’ve visited. A lot of the artwork pictured below was created during the Berlin Rising project in 2015:
The temperatures we experienced were also extraordinary…the beautiful dreamy picture of van life is idyllic in the summer heat but it’s quite a different story at -10°C in Eastern Europe’s mid-winter!
From Berlin we went down to Prague where we spent a few days stuck in the snow. We didn’t realise it was possible but our gas actually froze leaving us without any heating or hot water! This was a big problem as the temperature was steadily dropping in the van and the cold was penetrating our hundreds of layers of jumpers, blankets, duvets and sleeping bags! Simon nobly volunteered to get under the van, in the snow, and pour boiling water over our gas tank’s regulator which allowed us at least enough for a short blast of heating and a cup of tea!
We took shelter in a cafe and planned a trip to Karlstejn Castle, a stunning example of 14th century Gothic architecture which houses precious treasures of the Holy Roman Empire.
From Prague we ventured further South and met a friend in Vienna where we enjoyed the benefits of his local knowledge as he took us on a tour of the city’s most well-known sites along with a few stops to lesser known hidden gems.
After enduring so much cold and a constant lack of hot water we decided it was time to take a break from the van and enjoy a heated apartment for a couple of days in Budapest.
This was the most thankful we’d ever felt for the modern luxuries and comforts that come with living in a building! We had showers, did washing and watched TV, it was blissful!
We also treated ourselves to a visit to the Gellért Thermal Baths where we were rejuvenated by the mineral hot springs as we bathed in the glorious Art Nouveau style rooms. We even went outside and enjoyed the strange sensation of sitting in hot water whilst sat out in the snow!
After a couple days we got back on the road and drove up to Nuremburg where we parked on the edge of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. This was such a strange place as we were parked in a small car park with other motorhomes next to a lake and children’s park, but in the same grounds just a short walk away stood the very site where the Nazi Party held their annual rallies from 1923 to 1938. Visiting here gives you a sobering sense of the enormous scale of the party’s support in their rise to power.
From Nuremburg we began the very last stretch of our journey and headed back up North towards our ferry, with one last stop in Amsterdam to visit our friend Joost. We met Joost when he was hitch-hiking in Salisbury and he stayed with us for a week (back in our house dwelling days). We still feel grateful to Joost for giving us the inspiration to listen to our gut feelings and pursue our dreams. It felt fitting finishing off this last part of our adventure spending time with him again, but this time at his house, or rather, shipping container apartment 🙂
So now we’re back in the UK and still living in our beloved van because, well, we see no reason not to! We’re happy in here, we’ve got the freedom to travel where we like and enjoy feeling part of several places rather than just one. We’re based around Hampshire and Wiltshire but take off to festivals and visit friends as often as we can. We do miss the excitement of travelling and living abroad but we know that it’ll happen again one day, and for now, it’s nice not having to struggle with different languages! We’ll be updating the site with more information about our latest van build over the next few weeks so please check back.
We also just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has had a look in our van, given us feedback, helped us come up with new ideas and solutions to problems, shared advice and expertise, encouraged us and given us the reassurance to keep pursuing this dream. It still remains to be seen whether it will work out but we’re enjoying giving it a go and hope that it will pave the way to a an even happier rubber tramp lifestyle.
Love, Dee & Si x